Don’t Forget about “Me at the Museum!”

During the summer, and especially on Fridays when the week has worn you and your young ones out, always remember that the History Museum of Western Virginia hosts Me at the Museum each and every Friday.  There are weekly mornings of activities beginning at 10:00 am — bring your budding history lovers in this Friday, August 1st, and participate in puppy-themed crafts and a story… as well as a visit from a very special puppy thanks to the Angels of Assisi organization!  The cost is $3.00 for non-members, and free admission for members.  What better way to spend a Friday morning?


Upcoming Book Talk: Sheree Scarborough on the African American Railroad Workers of Roanoke


Next week, the History Museum of Western Virginia will be hosting a reception and book talk with Sheree Scarborough, an award-winning historian with thirty years of experience in both oral and public history. Scarborough moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains area of Virginia in 2010 after years of education and collaborations with the University of Texas and became involved in an oral history project at the University of Virginia as well as the Cotton to Silk Oral History Project here in Roanoke.

Written on behalf of the Historical Society of Western Virginia, Sheree Scarborough’s book, titled “African American Railroad Workers of Roanoke: Oral Histories of the Norfolk & Western,” contains stories and interviews from African American engineers, conductors, and executives of the railway.  As one of the country’s great historic railroad centers and employer of countless railway workers, Roanoke has a deep history spanning through Jim Crow segregation, civil rights, and today’s corporate workforce that can all be recalled through personal experience by its workers.  In this book, Scarborough shares with us the memories of twelve different African American employees of the railroad and takes us on a journey across the tracks of history.


On Thursday, July 24th at 6:00 pm, join the History Museum of Western Virginia and renowned historian Sheree Scarborough for food, drink, and a look into the oral histories of the Norfolk & Western!

Puttin’ on the Ritz: NEW exhibit opening TOMORROW, July 11th @ 7:00 pm


As if one beautiful new exhibit featuring the Virginia dulcimer wasn’t enough, the History Museum of Western Virginia is proud to announce the opening of another exhibit celebrating the age of the 1920s and 1930s in Roanoke, titled “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”  Much of this exhibit focuses on the fashions for which the time period is largely known — we have plenty of dresses, both formal and casual, that illustrate the culture of days gone by.  We’re even including an “Adopt and Artifact” feature which will allow you to help us preserve your favorite dress or artifact from the exhibit — by attending the exhibit opening, you can learn more about this program!


Aside from the fabulous fashions, the new exhibit will also feature a focus on a few other key characteristics of Roanoke during this time, including the dominance of the locally-established and owned Virginia Brewing Company and the prominent members of Roanoke’s Jewish community.  We have worked hard since the summer began to provide a fascinating and comprehensive glimpse into a community that served as integral parts of the city’s backbone during these turbulent decades.

The exhibit will open on Friday, July 11th at 7:00 pm at the History Museum of Western Virginia, with hors d’oeuvres and spirits provided to complement your visit.  The entrance price will be $8 for non-members with free admission for members. We hope to see you there!


July 4th: On This Day in 1776

Happy Independence Day, all!  In lieu of the frenzy and festivities of today, I have managed to catch myself a moment to share with you all the fantastically-written page highlighting July 4th published by the History Channel website.  On this day in 1776, our Founding Fathers risked the prospect of treason and execution in order to bring freedom to so many American generations to come.


“In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king. The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax. With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony. In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens. However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain’s continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published Common Sense, an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists. The first section features the famous lines, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The American War for Independence would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.”

BELOW: Yet another clip from HBO’s miniseries John Adams, depicting the passing of the Declaration of Independence.

July 3rd: On This Day in 1775

VIDEO: From HBO Miniseries “John Adams” — George Washington is nominated as Commander of the Continental Army.

On this day in 1775, General George Washington first took formal command of the Continental Army as its Commander in Chief. Washington was officially chosen by the Second Continental Congress on June 15th of that year, but did not assume official command until a few weeks later.

Congress chose George Washington for the leader of the largest military body that the colonies could muster despite Washington’s admission that he doubted himself in the role he had been asked to fill. He was a prominent Virginian (who could draw the New England troops and those from the remainder of the colonies closer together) and a military man, but nearly all of his military experience was drawn from the years of the French & Indian War, in which he commanded a brigade of diverse troops from multiple colonies and conducted largely frontier warfare. Handling such a large group of new men seemed to him to be a daunting task in the face of the disciplined, experienced British military.


However, George Washington displayed many other character traits that would prove him to be the most sensible choice for a respected leader of the colonial army. He had not only military experience, but general leadership experience as well — managing his plantation estate at Mount Vernon was a formidable task, one which Washington handled with skill. His personality traits were also on his side, as his determination and honesty along with his steadfast devotion to the cause of American independence made him virtually a beacon of hope to the Patriots whom he hoped to lead. His sense of honor and duty was indefatigable, but he also displayed an acute awareness of his personal defects and a willingness to yield to anyone who could teach him more than he already knew.


On July 3rd of 1775, General George Washington gathered his new troops at Cambridge Common in Massachusetts and drew his sword with authority to bring together the largely undisciplined and raucous group of men. Washington set about to discipline his troops in the manner of the British troops he had observed in the years before, writing that:

“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak and esteem to all.”

George Washington would soon overcome the challenge of training and disciplining his rabble of colonists into a military force that proved to be adept at warfare upon the British largely based on harassment. His Continental soldiers, compared to the British, usually held the home-ground advantage with familiarity of the land and the ability to perform maneuvers that allowed more hit-and-run tactics, a frustrating prospect for the British army.  Washington’s natural hand at leadership and command of respect helped enormously to carry the American cause to victory.

“After the war, the victorious general retired to his estate at Mount Vernon, but, in 1787, he heeded his nation’s call and agreed to preside over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The drafters created the office of president with him in mind, and, in February 1789, Washington was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. As president, Washington sought to unite the nation and protect the interests of the new republic at home and abroad. Of his presidency, he said, “I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn in precedent.” He successfully implemented executive authority, making good use of brilliant politicians such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson in his cabinet, and quieted fears of presidential tyranny. In 1792, he was unanimously reelected but, four years later, refused a third term. He died in 1799.”This Day in History


(Images courtesy of Google).

July 2nd: On This Day in 1776

Did you know that many people believe July 2nd, NOT July 4th, should be celebrated as Independence Day?  Why would they say this?


On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and settled the actual vote for independence in a unanimous motion — New York being the only exception with an abstention.  In fact, John Adams even wrote to his wife Abigail in a letter on July 3rd that:

“the Second of July, 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Thomas Jefferson began drafting the Declaration of Independence on June 11th, 1776, and took into account revisions and suggestions made by both John Adams and Benjamin Franklin before completing his final draft.

“On July 1, 1776, debate on the Lee Resolution resumed as planned, with a majority of the delegates favoring the resolution. Congress thought it of the utmost importance that independence be unanimously proclaimed. To ensure this, they delayed the final vote until July 2, when 12 colonial delegations voted in favor of it, with the New York delegates abstaining, unsure of how their constituents would wish them to vote.”This Day in History


Although many notable signatures were made upon the finalized document, dated July 4th, including the famous Hancock scrawl, the signatures of all the delegates weren’t present until later on, in August.  The city of Philadelphia, where the Declaration was signed, waited until July 8 to celebrate, with a parade and the firing of guns. The Continental Army under the leadership of George Washington didn’t learn about it until July 9th. It is even believed that the last delegate to sign the document was Thomas McKean of Delaware, whose own name wasn’t included until January of 1777, after an official copy of the Declaration had already been printed.

Whether or not our beloved Independence Day falls on “the correct day” or not, the coming of the beginning of July still stirs up American hearts in patriotic reverence for the 238th anniversary of our nation.  We celebrate with fireworks, cookouts, and re-viewings of The Patriot, 1776, and Youtube videos of Schoolhouse Rock’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” or “No More Kings!”  The U.S.A. chants can be heard up and down the street and we accidentally burn our fingers on the ends of our sparklers.  It takes many days to celebrate our independence, and we take full advantage of any occasion to do so.


July 1st: On This Day in 1775

On this day in 1775, the Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and decided to attempt recruitment of the Native American tribes in and around the colonies against the British crown.  The final resolution read:

“That in case any agent of the ministry shall induce the Indian tribes, or any of them, to commit actual hostilities against the colonies, or to enter into an offensive alliance with the British troops, thereupon the colonies ought to avail themselves of an alliance with such Indian nations as will enter into the same, to oppose such British troops and their Indian allies.”

Despite this seemingly resolute legislation, the simple truth remained that very few Native American tribes were acquiescent to the idea of “joining the colonial cause.”  Truly, many of these natives saw the British as a kind of bulwark against the threatening spread of white colonial influence and power.  And, needless to say, the racism that ran within the colonists in relation to the natives did very little to entice tribes to support the colonial cause.

“Racist settlers managed to undermine any residual trust remaining in the Native American population during the revolution by committing atrocities such as the massacre of neutral, Christian Indian women and children at prayer in Gnaddenhutten, Pennsylvania, in 1778. In another example, a Continental officer undermined his own cause with the murder of Cornplanter, a Shawnee leader and Patriot ally, in 1777.” (via This Day in History)


The American Revolution would prove to be detrimental to the Native Americans — with the American victory of the war, these tribes, including those who had become “allies” with the colonies, lost most of their land by 1783 when veterans of the war nearly revolted upon having not received payment for their military service.

(Images provided by Google).